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Jul 20, 2020
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Boston IVF COVID-19 Stress Study

Back in June, 2020 – Boston IVF announced the results of its COVID-19 Pandemic Stress study – which shows that infertility remains a top “stressor” for patients, even in a COVID-19 pandemic world.

The study’s results, published in the journal, Reproductive Biomedicine Online, comprised a survey of over 2,200 female infertility patients.

Results showed that:

  • Prior to the pandemic, women experiencing infertility ranked infertility as their top stressor, followed by their job, and then money.
  • At the beginning of the pandemic in the Boston area, the top stressor was infertility, followed by their job, and then the Coronavirus.
  • During the pandemic surge, the top stressor remained infertility, followed by the Coronavirus and then their job.
  • This is the first study to show that despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on virtually every aspect of these patients’ lives – women experiencing infertility perceived the inability to conceive a healthy baby to have the most negative impact on their emotional health.
  • This research affirms the need to provide a holistic form of care for those struggling to build their families.
  • Based on this landmark study, we sat down with the authors - Boston IVF physicians Drs. Denis Vaughan, Jaimin Shah, Alan Penzias, Thomas Toth and psychologist Dr. Alice Domar – to get some added commentary on the results and what it means for individuals and couples experiencing infertility.

boston ivf covid-19 study Q&A 

Q: 2,200 people participated. That is a decent sample size, right?

Denis Vaughn, MD
It is indeed a very robust study and far larger than any other study to date on the emotional impact of the pandemic on women with infertility. The large sample size makes the results even more compelling, since it is based on so many people. Some studies include 20 or 30 people, and there is no way of knowing if their thoughts are truly representative of others. The larger the study, taking the percentage of respondents into account, the more valid the results.

Q: The main takeaway is that infertility is stressful. Tell us about that and your experience with researching this subject?

Thomas L. Toth, MD
We aren’t all that surprised by the results of the study. Dr. Alice Domar previously published a study demonstrating that women with infertility report equivalent levels of anxiety and depression to women with cancer, HIV or heart disease. Therefore, we have been aware that infertility is frequently the most stressful experience of our patients’ lives. Yes, the pandemic is a huge stressor, but for a lot of reasons, infertility still can have a greater impact. A primary goal of this study was to educate others, who didn’t have personal experience with infertility, about how much stress our patients are facing

Q: It is interesting to see that infertility is the biggest stressor on its own, never mind combining that with a pandemic. It’s amazing to see the resiliency in our patients. What are your thoughts on all this happening at once?

Dr. Alice Domar
Great question. Since infertility patients have been living with hope followed by disappointment for months or even years, it likely helps build their resilience, as well as teaching them new coping skills. Our patients have been disappointed that their cycles had been temporarily delayed, but the majority understood the reasons why. Strangely enough, the social isolation may be a relief to our patients since they aren’t exposed to baby showers, first birthday parties, gender reveal parties, etc, all of which can cause feelings of loneliness and jealousy.

Q: The study emphasizes the need for holistic care during infertility to alleviate stress. What can patients do to combat all this and improve their mental health?

Dr. Alice Domar
Boston IVF is unique in that it is the only infertility center in New England, and one of the few in the US, with a large integrative center, the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health, based in the Waltham office, as well as one in the Albany center. During the pandemic, psychological counseling is available remotely, as is nutritional counseling, which for most patients is covered by insurance. In addition, we have acupuncture available at the Waltham office.

For patients who prefer something more accessible, Dr. Domar co-wrote two free mobile apps, FertiCalm for women and FertiStrong for men. 

Q: How does this study affect any treatments going forward?

Thomas L. Toth, MD
This study was eye opening for many, since it clearly showed how stressful infertility can be. We at Boston IVF will work even harder to provide compassionate, empathic care to all of our patients.

Q: Why was this an important study to do?

Dr. Alice Domar
The COVID19 pandemic is unprecedented in terms of the scope and impact, physically, psychologically, socially, and financially. Our patients have had to deal with enormous changes in their lives, and for many, had to have a temporary pause in their treatment. We needed to know how our patients were doing emotionally, to create the best support options possible. Additionally, it is crucial for the world to know the magnitude of the impact infertility can have on an individual or couple and the COVID-19 pandemic, as a comparison, highlights it more than prior research. 

Q: Will this open up people’s eyes to how stressful the family-building process can be?

Denis Vaughn, MD
We hope so.  Most people don’t know just how stressful infertility can be for individuals and couples. The infertility care providers that patients work with have some insight but the outside world such as family members, friends, co-workers and even other care providers often are oblivious to the stress our patients deal with.  

Q: Will you continue to survey patients as the pandemic continues??

Dr. Alice Domar
Indeed, we have gotten very positive feedback from patients, care providers and the public on the initial results of this study. We are going to continue to monitor the impact of the pandemic on the emotional health of our patients for the next year and have been awarded a prestigious grant, sponsored by Ferring Pharmaceuticals, to support this study.

Q: What other research studies are you working on?

Denis Vaughn, MD
Many patients are not aware that Boston IVF is an academic infertility center. We are affiliated with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School with many groundbreaking studies are ongoing at any one time. These cannot be completed without the participation of our patients. Boston IVF/the Domar Center are leaders in the quest to conduct studies that helpto  better understand the emotional toll treatment takes on patients. Research is of paramount importance to gather this data. We listen attentively to our patients, study the research results closely to understand common themes and shortcomings in order to address and provide more holistic care for patients.

We encourage interested patients to check on our website for a list and reach out to their doctors’ team for more information. We are continually examining how we do things and how we can improve outcomes, not just for our patients, but to advance the field of reproductive medicine


Jul 20, 2020 - 8:35 PM
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